Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
An 0p-ed in the Washington Post by former deputy secretary of defense and chairman of the Defense Policy Board John Hamre calls the current security clearance process pathetic.
Hamre relayed the process he had to go through for his recent top secret security clearance renewal. For unclear reasons he had to re-submit his electronic SF-86. While this itself was an annoyance, it seemed to be the security clearance interview that sent Hamre over the edge in his frustration with the process.
A security clearance investigator requested a two-hour interview which included a line-by-line Q and A concerning the responses in Hamre’s SF-86. As a system for rooting out spies, Hamre deemed the point-by-point confirmation of his previously submitted document to be systemic of a flawed system:
I once served on the board of a major company that collected computer records and provided knowledge services (for example, credit reports) and customer verification services to the insurance industry. The company could detect fraud in more than 99 percent of cases by asking a potential claimant five questions along the lines of: “Did you live at 123 Maple Ave., 345 Apple Ave. or 456 Oak Ave.?” “At 123 Maple Ave., did your house have two bathrooms, two and a half, or four?” “Did the house at 345 Apple Ave. have one fireplace, two or none?”
It needed only five such questions. Why, then, does OPM have workers reading applicants the forms that the applicants themselves have filled out, then asking whether this is the truth?
Hamre isn’t the only one calling for security clearance reforms. In congressional testimony last year Gene Dodoro with the Government Accountability Office specifically called out the security clearance investigations as an area for cost reform, including downgrading clearance designations or reducing the number of cleared personnel. The cost of a top secret security clearance investigation is significantly more expensive than that of a secret clearance.
And just last month several defense contractors called for more standardization and the use of technology to improve the clearance process.
Clearance reform – it’s definitely not a new topic for the audience here. In the face of budget cuts there’s no question it may be flagged as an area of cost savings. Unfortunately, with sequestration acting as more of a blunt instrument than a fine point, it seems unlikely that clearance reform will achieve the full lifecycle technology advancements the critics seem to be arguing for.
What do you think? Do you agree with the criticism? If so, how would you really improve the system?
The Defense Security Service (DSS) has released its annual unclassified report titled Targeting U.S. Technologies, A Trend Analysis of Reporting from Defense Industry, for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11). The 75-page document is an analysis of foreign collection efforts and espionage that targets U.S. technology, intellectual property, trade secrets and proprietary information. It is an important report that should be reviewed by all members of industry to understand the importance of counter-espionage in your security efforts and for reporting suspicious contact efforts to appropriate agencies.
Read more about the report here.
So, what we really want to know is: What new features do you want? What do you want to be able to do. but can’t now? What would you like to see more of? User feedback is important to us, and we’d love to hear your ideas, please take a moment and leave a comment.
On 16 November 2012 the following was posted on the Defense Security Service (DSS) website under “User/System Alerts:”
DSS Notice Regarding Secession Petitions
November 16, 2012
DSS personnel have recently received questions from security personnel at cleared contractors about whether contractors should file adverse information reports pursuant to NISPOM paragraph 1-302 regarding cleared persons who sign petitions to allow a state to withdraw or secede from the United States.
It also appears that erroneous statements have been made to the effect that DSS is directing contractors to treat the signing of such petitions as reportable adverse information.
Please note that DSS has not provided any approved direction or guidance. DSS is not directing any contractor to file adverse information reports regarding persons who have signed secession or withdrawal petitions. This issue is under review and DSS will provide information to contractors when that review is complete.
This notice is about the recent petitions posted at the White House’s “We the People” website. According to a 15 November 2012 Washington Post article, petitions have been initiated by people in all 50 states and six of those petitions have reached the 25,000-signature threshold requiring a response from an administration official.
Since the petitions have no legal effect, it’s hard to imagine DSS taking more than a couple of minutes to “review” the situation before advising Facility Security Officers (FSOs) that there is no need to submit an adverse information Report (Incident Report) regarding any of their employees who simply sign one of these petitions. It’s unclear what provision of DOD 5200.2-R or the Adjudicative Guidelines an FSO might think makes this type of conduct reportable under the NISPOM. It’s not an “Allegiance” or “Foreign Preference” issue—at least not until there is a country to which someone wants to transfer their allegiance or they express an intent to renounce U.S. citizenship. Unless it involves violating the law, exercising your First Amendment rights of free speech and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances shouldn’t be reportable conduct under the NISPOM.
I’m reminded of what Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said when she was mayor of San Francisco and facing a recall petition: “In San Francisco you can get 30,000 people to sign a petition to put overhead sewer lines on Market Street.” I don’t think anyone is taking these petitions as a serious secessionist movement. It’s just a way to let off steam.
Do millennials have more difficulty obtaining security clearances than other generations? With debt issues starting earlier and our international world making ‘foreign influence’ more difficult to define, they certainly may have more difficulty filling out their security clearance applications.
A recent article on ClearanceJobs.com offered tips specifically for millennial job seekers filling out their SF-86. From keeping tabs of addresses that may change multiple times a year to ensuring you list a quality reference everywhere it’s required, the devil is in the details.
Failure to fill out a security clearance application accurately may be the biggest issue – regardless of greater instances of debt and foreign influence. Issues can often be mitigated, but failure to accurately report problems isn’t likely to be seen as oversight, but dishonesty.
What do you think – are there generational issues at play making today’s security clearance application more complex?
The issue of mental health stigma has always surrounded question 21 of Standard Form 86 (SF-86). It’s a fact that few applicants are denied a clearance based on listing mental health counseling on the security clearance form. But experts argue that including the question will prevent some from seeking help in the first place, knowing they’ll need to list any counseling on a future security clearance application or reinvestigation.
On September 4th, the Department of Defense emphasized its commitment to making the counseling received by victims of sexual assault more private. According to a DoD memo victims of sexual assault must still list any counseling received on their SF-86, but when it comes to using information about that counseling to make a clearance determination, the basis will be a yes or no question directed toward the individuals’ physician – ‘does the applicant have a condition that could impair their judgment or ability to safeguard classified information?’ If the answer is no, no further questions will be asked.
The memo seems to be a face-saving response to critics of requiring victims of sexual assault to answer the question. When similar criticism of mental health counseling stigma for victims of Post-Traumatic-Stress were reported, the Department of Defense in 2008 clarified that service members did not have to report counseling related to combat stress. In contrast, DoD is not excluding sexual assault counseling from reporting requirements, but is emphasizing its commitment to privacy for sexual assault victims.
When it comes to investigating a psychological condition, current practice as it already stands is to simply direct a yes or no question to the mental health practitioner providing the counseling. If the answer of impaired judgment or ability to safeguard information is no, information about the applicant’s condition aren’t released – regardless of the reason for the counseling.
In a recent interview, “Can Counseling Complicate Your Security Clearance?” Evan Lesser, ClearanceJobs founder and managing director, noted that security clearance investigations today are looking at the big picture surrounding an individual’s character and history, and also recognize the increased prevalence of mental health counseling. While counseling may have been an issue in the past, that isn’t the case today.
“They take into account the totality of someone and their actions, their circumstances, how they got there,” Lesser said.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he’s looking into proposals to amend the SF-86 to remove requirements to report sexual assault related counseling.
When it comes to security clearance adjudication, policy is clear that mental health counseling in and of itself is not a justification for a clearance denial, regardless of the reason for the counseling. Practically speaking, however, it certainly could prevent an interim clearance.
A recent court ruling on whether or not employees holding ‘sensitive’ positions can appeal layoffs to the Merit Systems Protection Board demonstrates less about legal protections for federal employees than it highlights how confusing sensitivity designations can be.
Most individuals who have applied for a position with the federal government realize that there is a difference between ‘employment suitability’ and a security clearance. Employment suitability screening consists of a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI) with applicants completing an SF-85P, typically, versus an SF-86. Just as investigations differ depending upon the clearance level, investigations differ for employment suitability based on the level of risk assigned to the position. (Learn more here.)
Some are concerned that employment designations may soon be used to not just protect classified information, but to help oust employees from federal positions.
In a 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court, two low-level defense department employees were denied an appeal after being barred from holding “non-critical sensitive positions.” Following 9/11, many positions have been reclassified from non-sensitive to sensitive. The two plaintiffs in the recent case were individuals whose positions had been redesignated but due to financial issues, in one instance, and undisclosed reasons in the other, the individuals were not eligible for the sensitive positions, and were eventually fired as a result.
Critics of the ruling feel that reclassifying position designations could soon be used as a means for federal managers to fire employees without cause. The majority opinion in the case argued that the need to protect classified information trumps employee rights, in this instance. Federal agencies are more equipped to make personnel decisions than the courts, and electronic records management gives even non-cleared employees access to information which could harm national security.
As the government looks to cut costs and move forward with security clearance reform, reevaluation of security clearance designations may be in the cards. Unlike the case above, many agencies are looking into where they can reduce clearance levels, downgrading top secret clearances to secret clearances, which results in significant cost savings over time. At the same time, the widespread use of electronic records keeping, as referenced by the majority opinion in this case, will likely continue the use of ‘non-critical sensitive’ position designations as an assurance that those with access to government computer networks and systems warrant that access.
A position sensitivity designation is not the same as a security clearance. All federal positions are evaluated and given a sensitivity designation:
Moderate Risk Public Trust
High Risk Public Trust
“As a practical matter within DOD 95% or more of all Non-critical sensitive positions are so designated because the positions require access to Confidential or Secret national security information and 95% or more of all Critical Sensitive positions are so designated because the positions require access to Top Secret information,” noted William Henderson, author and security clearance consultant. “All positions designated Special sensitive (a term not universally used within DOD) are so designated because they require access to SCI or other SAPs.”
An individual under investigation for a non-critical sensitive position without a security clearance undergoes the same adjudicative criteria as someone applying for the same non-critical sensitive position with the need for a security clearance. Persons with a ‘non-critical sensitive position’ could then be granted access to classified information administratively, without need for an additional investigation, said Henderson.
That reality supports the court’s decision that the designation of sensitivity – like security clearances – best falls within agency purview, rather than the judiciary.
Despite the outcry of union leaders and worker’s rights groups, it would seem the decision to allow the government to fire individuals who don’t meet criteria for non-critical sensitive positions is a sound one. Federal managers are unlikely to re-designate positions for the sole reason of retaliation, and if that were the case the employee would simply need to justify why their position should not have been reclassified.
It’s a tough topic – almost beyond the grasp of the editor of ClearanceJobs.com! Knowledgeable investigators, feel free to weigh in with your perspective or correction! – LK
Think it’s not a big deal to provide false information on an employment application? Think again.
If you’ve applied for government jobs, even those without security clearance, you’ve filled out some form of suitability determination. Even if you’re not accessing classified information in the scope of your work, the government likes to have some idea of your trustworthiness…and any previous run-ins with drugs, alcohol, firearms and explosives, in particular.
Even if you’re just filling out a job application, lying can pose serious consequences – just ask Terrance Lee King, a Denver man who is facing up to five years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine for lying on a security-badge application for the Denver International Airport. On a fingerprinting and badging application, King indicated that he had never been convicted of any disqualifying criminal offenses, even though that was clearly not the case.
Investigators have thus far not found any “terrorist motives” – although they have found that King is a pretty big idiot. As this story breaks, King is already serving time in state prison for violating parole on prior convictions for a weapons violation and drug possession, reported Denver’s Channel 7 News.
It’s a good reminder that not all offenses are created equally, and when suitability determinations screen applicants for drug, alcohol and weapons violations, there’s good reason. King’s case seems to be a clear-cut issue of lying to try to get a job, not human error or confusion.
Questions on Clearancejobs.com frequently include whether or not an individual needs to include a specific incident on his or her SF86. And while we rarely advocate for including more information than necessary, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the law, especially one involving weapons, drugs, or alcohol, you’re better to list and mitigate from the get-go than discover months later you were, in fact, arrested that one time in college you barely remember.
When is a job about more than the job? When you have a security clearance or you’re in the military.
Many people have heard the phrase ‘held to a higher standard’ used in conjunction with men and women in uniform. It’s not just a reference to a higher moral character or sense of patriotism, its actual military doctrine and protocol, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and security clearance requirements. The military is just about the only employer these days who will fire you or demote you for having an affair, for instance. Why? Because the prohibition is outlined in UCMJ.
With such clear guidelines known by anyone in uniform, it’s hard to believe stories like this still exist. Last week the story broke of a Navy Commander who had an affair with a 23-year-old he met on a dating site. After the woman told him she was pregnant, the navy officer allegedly faked his own death via email messages. The officer had emails sent which implied an incident had occurred in the scope of his “special operations” military duties and he’d died.
It sounds like a soap opera, but appears to be depressingly real. A Navy press release noted that Ward had been relieved of command due to “lack of confidence” and “allegations of personal misconduct.”
The reality is most security clearance issues are significantly less obvious than this. Will a one-time affair that you disclose to your spouse result in clearance denial? Hardly, and it’s not likely to even come up in the course of an investigation. But incidents such as the one above highlight the need for standards of personal integrity in positions of public trust, especially at the highest clearance levels.
If you’re willing to create a web of lies and pretend to be dead to avoid your problems, what else would you be willing to do? Now, if only all clearance investigations involved incidents this easy to assess.
I never realized that when it comes to classified information it’s not just “top secret” “secret” and “confidential” – based on a recent assessment from the Pentagon press pool there’s also “classified-classified” and “B.S. classified.”
The topic came up in a recent Pentagon press briefing with Bloomberg reporter Tony Capaccio questioning Pentagon spokesman George Little regarding an anti-leak memorandum released by the Pentagon last week. Cappacio noted that the idea of classification had become “a joke” and asked what defense officials were going to do to distinguish “classified-classified versus B.S. classified” – as he put it.
It’s the same debate on overclassification, different scenario. With congress hotly debating the repercussions for leaks in the wake of some widespread and high-profile breaches – and putting the press on the hot seat for publishing classified information – those on the other side of the argument continue to cry “overclassification” not “leak.”
Reporters aren’t the first to charge the government with overclassification. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy has been accusing the government of overclassifying information for years. Members of congress and the Government Accountability Office have also argued that overclassification is a drain on the system, reduces transparency and costs millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
It’s a tough argument in the era of Wikileaks. Some are urging that classification reform would actually reduce the instance of breaches, with less information to steal, clearer protocols, and more transparency. Others argue that the risks demand more caution before releasing even potentially sensitive materials.
Congress has shifted focus from overclassification to leaks, with 12 provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill related to unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The provisions are largely procedural changes and clarifications on what cleared personnel can and can’t do. None get at what is considered the heart of the issue for many – offering clearer protocols for the declassification of information and reducing the amount of classified information – “B.S.” or otherwise.